I graduated with a job offer from one of the big multinational corporations back in 2011. I can still remember the moment when they declared my name in front of all the students of class 2011, I was exhilarated, it was like the entire world dancing around me. I would be earning, I could finally tell my dad-“Baba, I am earning”.Baba would be so proud. I went back home from college hostel with happy heart and the biggest smile on my face.
The four months before my start date, was the best phase of my life. I was ready to step into the professional world and I made myself a promise to work hard and be the best employee a company can ever ask for.
Then came the first day, all decked up and excited I went to work. There were hundreds of young people coming from different cities, huddled in a huge auditorium for their first ever welcome speech. I made new friends, attended hour long sessions of what to do and what not do, went on a tour of the campus(it was beautiful) and by the end of the day I was exhausted but I was happy.Three months of rigorous training and I successfully transitioned from trainee to a full time employee.
Now the story begins and to save you from guessing random things about the story, I am going to tell you that this story is about a bad work culture and how that is so normal for people in the company and how that affected my career and my personal life.
I was posted in Kolkata, one of the popular cities in India and was working for an IT company(I don’t want to take the name cause I believe campuses in other cities might be different). After the training, comes the wait period where the employees are put on hold(the period is called “bench”) till they are assigned to a project. I was on bench for a month or two, initially I was happy to get paid and do no work, but slowly that frustrated me, I was bored coming to office and doing nothing. I tried taking online courses on a bunch of random things but it was all pointless at that time. It felt like I was moving without a direction. At the end of the two months I started asking my point of contact for a project and sent out emails to different teams where I heard there was an opening. Finally I was able to get into a project and thought “this is it….I am going to do real work now!!”. I was happy and all set for my actual new beginning.
My first day in the new project: I was introduced to my team members and my manager walked me through the work they were doing and what they expected me to do. I was assigned to a domain called Business Process Management and was going to work on a tool called “PEGA”. Apparently, it had a huge demand and there were a lot of scope for onsite opportunities(let me tell you, these people go crazy for any opportunity to go outside India be it UK, USA or any other country). But honestly, my instinct that day was not good, I had the feeling that something bad is going to happen but didn’t know what. On my first day I was told this team was a very hard working team and that I should be prepared for that. I was asked to help two seniors with their projects for first few weeks and then when I would get familiar with the tool I could have my own tasks. My manager was a middle aged man who had a family (trust me these details are necessary and you will know why). Also there was this girl who was two or three years senior to me and was many people’s favorite. It’s time to give some names to these characters. Say, my manager’s name “SO”, the girl “BI”, another guy “KI”, and two seniors “SU” and “DE”.
Our client was a US bank and the tool was used to create business flow starting from when a customer submits a request(e.g apply for checking account) to the step where the request gets approved. My task for first few days was to check if the flow was working properly or was it breaking in the middle. If there was a problem then I would raise an alarm otherwise I would mention “successful”. It was as boring as it sounds. But I was okay, thinking “I am new and soon this will be over”. My plan was to come at 9 am sharp and leave by 6 or 7 pm maximum. But, all my team members came at 11 am, sometimes around noon and left work at 11pm, often at midnight. My problem was not their time but they expected me to follow their time. I wanted to go home at normal time cause I had a life outside work and wanted to have that balance. I had friends, family and a social life outside work which I desperately wanted. So utterly confused I asked SU, why do you guys leave so late ? His reply was “we get free bus ride and also this is summer and we can spend the hot summer days in the comfortable air conditioned office cabins”. Yes, that was his disgusting reply.
Also, they would go for a break for an hour in the afternoon from 4 pm to 5 pm and in the mean time I was supposed to wait for them to come back.
Days went by, I did the same monotonic task over and over and no real task was assigned to me. I used to leave at 7 pm but I knew my manager SO was not happy. I used to live very close to work and SO used to tell me “You can leave after us cause you live so close”. Seriously ???
I tried exploring the tool as much as I could, was desperate to become an exception. I always believed in quality over quantity. I did whatever small assigned to me well in time and the flow checks regularly. Days became months and like that it was the end of my one year. When the rating came I was the one who received a bad rating and a review saying I was incompetent and I was not hard working. That hurt me, hurt me bad. I realized this is not what I want to do and have to get out of here. I started prepping for MBA entrance exam and enrolled myself in a coaching institution, this means I had to study after work but I was ready to do that.
But as days went by it was getting harder and harder to leave by 7 pm or even 8 pm. No matter when I came I was forced to stay in the office for no apparent reason even when there was no significant work. BI, the girl I mentioned would stay late in the office like 4 am (I am not lying) so that she could talk to one of the guys who she liked and that guy was at onsite (because of the USA and India time difference the 4 am India seemed like the best time). Thats not the problem, the problem was she would come next day and proudly say that to everyone, and people would be saying things like “wow, you are late, you must be working so hard”. She was set as an example in front of me. I was nauseated. I would reach home at 10 pm and then would start to study. Obviously it was of no use, I was exhausted from the workplace pressure, all I wanted was cry and sleep. Then I decided to wake up early around 6 am in the morning but that also didn’t work. I was frustrated, I didn’t know what I was doing.
One day I cried in front of my parents, and told them that, “I cannot take this anymore and I want to leave my job”. They were shocked, leaving a job in a middle class family in India is like a crime and stupidest thing one can ever do. They don’t let me. I dragged myself to work loosing interest in the work and worrying every second. What was I supposed to do with my life, my career. In the mean time, my MBA entrance exam was coming close and I was not prepared like that. I knew that I won’t be able to give my best shot but I kept trying.
It was the day of my exam, it went horrible. I cried and cried. This means another year at that appalling work place. This time I thought I would raise my voice and escalate this existing work culture to the higher authority in the company. I was called for a discussion from the Asia head of that domain. I told him everything that happened but my rating and review were not great so he didn’t trust me. I requested for a different project in a different domain but he said- “exchange of resources between the domains is something we don’t encourage”. Frustrated I came back and talked to SU, my manager, about the problem and asked him to let me go of the project. I was ready to wait in the bench for a different project. He did let me go but with bad rating and awful reviews. This was how my second year was over, again with bad performance review. Two years straight with those reviews, I knew I would not get any good project now.
But at least in the bench I had enough time to study for my second attempt to crack MBA. Everything was good, until the day when I was called from a different project from a different location(my company had many offices in the city). It was far, it took me one and half hour each way, to and from work. Same problem, I wasn’t getting enough time to study. Another training on a different tool, another awful project, another awful manager. My second attempt at MBA didn’t work as well. This was my third year at the company and I had no clue what to do.
But god saved me, a friend of mine was preparing for GRE and he suggested me to sit for GRE since I had prepared so much for MBA. I was desperate and didn’t think twice. I filled my application form, took GRE, took English test and I was contented. I did well, I actually did well. I was happy, finally something to look forward to. Me and my friend decided to pursue a career in Data Science and applied to a bunch of universities.
There’s always light at the end of the dark tunnel, we just have to keep walking. I got accepted from one of the universities and it is still one of the best days of my life. I cried like a baby when I saw the congratulation email. I was finally happy again. I resigned the next day. I wrote a long email to Human Resource complaining about the work culture and how it took toll on my mental health, but a part of me always knew nothing is going to change. It actually didn’t change. Even today when I talk to my friends, who are still working for the same company, I realize nothing has changed. People think working late is working hard, having no social life is okay, quality is measured by how long you are in office, mentally harassing someone is okay even when you see that person is begging you to listen. No wonder why India is one of the most depressing countries in the world and who ever says you can bring change, you cannot. I cannot speak for other multinational companies but I had a terrible experience and I dread to even think about it.
P.S: I am currently working as a Senior Data Scientist in an amazing company with amazing and talented people around me. They understand me and recognize me and my hard work. I am finally happy at my work place but each time I think of changing a company all those memories come rushing back to me and I feel numb again. What if I face the same situation again? Will I be able to survive this time ?